|Photo from the wonderful @james_in_to. More of his great stuff here.|
I had counted myself among the horde who didn't believe for a second that if and when the Toronto Blue Jays traded their manager, John Farrell, to the Boston Red Sox, they would receive anything more than an above-average prospect in return. Barring the inclusion of a higher-level player from Toronto's side, I was fairly certain that a major-league player would not be coming back north of the border.
Here we are more than a week later, and things obviously shook out much differently than I had expected they would. Frankly, I'm pretty happy with how things transpired. I didn't actively dislike John Farrell as a manager, really, but I also didn't put him on any kind of pedestal either. For two years, he was just kinda there, inspiring mostly indifference in me, despite my protestations on Twitter against his daily inclusion of Adam Lind as his cleanup hitter or some other passing transgression.
The trade, in which Toronto acquired Mike Aviles in return for their erstwhile skipper, opens up a couple of key questions for GM Alex Anthopoulos and the rest of the organization to address (to go with a pile of others the team will need to address this off-season, but we'll get to those later in the fall and winter). The answers to those key questions are going to have a material impact on the approaches the team might take in 2013 and beyond -- although those impacts might not be immediately evident.
The first question, obviously, is who will replace Farrell as manager. Anthopoulos has had one crack at picking a manager and landed, after much careful consideration, on Farrell. Along with that choice came a particular approach to in-game strategy, clubhouse management, and all the other things a manager can influence. Now, if the Road to Contention in the AL East were a video game, this represents a chance to at least re-start the current level. You may have to start again a little further back than you were, but at least you have a sense what's coming at you and what you did wrong last time. Picking another manager now, after an abbreviated stint like Farrell had, gives Anthopoulos an opportunity to re-assess what it is he wants from his manager.
If there really was a disconnect between Farrell and Anthopoulos (I'm not sure there was), or if Anthopoulos has a firmer idea now of what kind of manager he needs than he might have had the first time around (I have to think he does), the GM will now get to pick a manager that he expects will fit his vision, strategy and resources better. But there's still a huge element of guesswork involved, since it's not until the manager is in the job -- and has a roster to work with -- that results will even start to be evident.
The new manager's approach will become evident not through an introductory news conference, but rather through the dribs and drabs of information that show themselves through the course of a season. One of those bits of data will be the way the manager utilizes a player like the freshly-arrived Aviles.
Here's a reasonably versatile middle-infield type, with a little bit of pop and a little bit of speed, and a sizable platoon split in which he's a career .344 wOBA in his career against lefties, versus a .297 against righties.
Could Aviles play every day at second base or at shortstop with numbers like those? Sure, I guess.
Would he make a better strict platoon partner for, say, a Daniel Murphy, who bats from the other side and hits righties better than lefties, and who has been reported to be on the trading block for some time, including this past summer? Or perhaps as a utility guy, filling in where and when his particular skill set matches best -- like starting against lefties, pinch-hitting against them when they come out of the bullpen, and being an important asset in case of injury? Absolutely yes.
I'll concede that to use Aviles in such a way would necessitate some other upgrades to the roster in the middle infield, in particular at second base, with everything else remaining equal (that is to say, with Yunel Escobar remaining a Blue Jay or a reasonable facsimile of a starting shortstop taking his place). That's going to be on the General Manager's shoulders.
In the optimum situation, though, I hope a new manager will be the kind of guy who isn't necessarily glued to an every-day 1 through 9 in the batting order and in the field. I'm not talking about Joe Maddon's mad scientist routine here, which despite the accolades it gets, can also get in the way of itself. But given this team's resources, and the talent it has now and can reasonably be expected to add in areas like the middle infield, it wouldn't hurt at all to show a bit more creativity where it's warranted.